HARRISBURG – Environmentalists want the Wolf Administration to roll out tighter controls on methane pollution from existing wells and compressor stations to go along with those on new ones.
The state Department of Environmental Protection in June announced stepped-up requirements for new wells and compressor stations, facilities that help keep the gas moving through pipelines.
The additional move to add already-producing wells and operating compressor stations would be even more important as “protections are being rolled back at the federal level,” said Andrew Williams, director of regulatory and legislative affairs for the Environmental Defense Action Fund.
In announcing the new limits last month, Gov. Tom Wolf said that as Pennsylvania is second to only Texas in natural gas production, the state is “uniquely positioned to be a national leader in addressing climate change while supporting and ensuring responsible energy development.”
Neil Shader, a DEP spokesman, said the agency is “in the early stages” of developing new regulations for methane emissions from existing wells and compressor stations.
Methane has become a hot-button because it’s considered “a potent greenhouse gas, with more than 80 times the climate warming impact of carbon dioxide over a 20-year timespan,” according to Williams’ group.
The rules put in place in June came over the objections of the natural gas industry.
“Methane does not appear to be increasing at levels that make specific limits and controls necessary,” the Marcellus Shale Coalition said in comments submitted to DEP.
The group also complained that the limits set by the state appear “arbitrary.”
In a statement provided Friday, the coalition’s president David Spigelmyer said the group would not welcome additional rules to limit methane pollution.
“Our efforts to manage the resource have improved air quality as noted by the DEP and other independent reports,” Spiglemyer said. “Despite this positive and continued progress, we remain concerned about imposing additional requirements through operating permits.”
Williams spoke before Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt announced his resignation on Thursday. Even so, environmentalists have little optimism that the agency will change course under Pruitt’s apparent successor Andrew Wheeler.
“We now face the stark reality of a coal lobbyist, Andrew Wheeler, running the agency that is supposed to protect our air, water, and climate,” said Environmental Defense Fund president Fred Krupp. “Changing name plates is not enough.”
State data released by DEP shows that less methane escaped into the air in 2015 than 2012. However, the methane pollution in 2015, the most recent year for which data has been released, was more than either of the prior two years.
Estimates released by the EPA show that methane emissions dropped 16 percent nationally from 1990 to 2016, even as natural gas production increased.
The Environmental Defense Fund, however, points to evidence that the EPA data has under-estimated how much methane is escaping into the atmosphere from natural gas operations. In a study published in the journal Science, researchers concluded that the oil and gas industry are emitting 60 percent more methane into the atmosphere than the EPA has said.